Friends of the O-Train

Friends of the O-Train is transit group composed of a number of community leaders, rail and transit experts, and concerned taxpayers. Our goal has been to present practical rapid transit options for the National Capital Region, for open discussion with anyone.
Email: friendsoftheotrain (at)

In the News

City hid true cost of light rail, documents show - Ottawa Citizen, January 09, 2007

City would run better if it listened to knowledgable volunteers - Ottawa Citizen, January 07, 2007

Transit needs to get on a roll - Ottawa Citizen, January 03, 2007

Democracy has spoken on light rail - The Ottawa Citizen Dec 3, 2006

O-Train plan finds more friends in downtown core - Patrick Dare, The Ottawa Citizen Nov 21, 2006

It's never too late to fix a mistake - Leo Valiquette, OBJ, Nov 6, 2006

Friends of the O-Train spike Chiarelli's hopes - Mark Sutcliffe, Ottawa Citizen, Nov 5, 2006

Letter to the Citizen - Nov 1, 2006

O-Train idea well worth a close look Randall Denley, Ottawa Citizen Oct 31, 2006

Reporter's Notebook: Alistair Steele, CBC Radio, Oct 31, 2006

"Friends" on the Right Track Susan Sherring, Ottawa Sun Oct 31, 2006

Une nouvelle proposition pour le train léger Le Droit, Oct 31, 2006

Group's O-Train plan to be cheaper, reduce downtown traffic Ottawa Business Journal, Oct 31, 2006

Update: Group proposes cheaper, more expandable O-Train plan
Ottawa Business Journal, Oct 31, 2006

O-Train idea well worth a close look
Photograph by : Robert Cross, The Ottawa Citizen

Randall Denley, The Ottawa Citizen - original article
Published: Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Columnist Randall Denley says the proposal from Friends of the O-Train makes more sense than anything put forth by any candidate -- or city staff. It is, he says, a practical plan that can move large numbers of people, quickly and cleanly, through the downtown core.

In a word, eureka. A volunteer group called Friends of the O-Train yesterday proposed a simple, logical plan to improve transit in the city that makes infinitely more sense than anything we've heard from the leading mayoral candidates, or the city's squad of high-priced bureaucrats.

The volunteer transit group calls its idea a "practical LRT plan for Ottawa," and it's certainly that. The plan has two key elements.

First, it would extend the O-Train south to a major park-and-ride lot at Armstrong
Road. The estimated cost is $39 million, giving it a bit of an edge over the city's $880-million plan to take light-rail south.

The practical plan also calls for electric light-rail to run in a six-kilometre loop between Bayview in the west and Hurdman in the east, effectively taking buses out of the downtown. The cost of that line is $407 million, the group says, for a total project cost of $446 million, about half of what the city plans to spend to go north-south only.

That's the big picture. The details make the idea even more compelling. The advantage of electric light-rail is that it can move large volumes of people, quickly and cleanly, through the downtown core.

The city plan loses that advantage by continuing to choke Albert and Slater with buses. The practical plan proposes to stop almost all buses at Hurdman or Bayview,
transferring passengers to three-car light-rail trains that can hold 600 people and would leave every three minutes. That would make the trip into downtown quick, simple
and clean.

The bigger trains also maximize another rail advantage: the ability to move a large number of passengers with only one operator. Turning buses back before they reach
downtown would shorten their routes, providing greater frequency of service to the suburbs at no extra cost, Friends spokesman David Jeanes says.

Mayoral contenders Larry O'Brien and Alex Munter have been telling us a tunnel downtown is a good idea. It's not. With light rail only in the downtown core,
there's no need to go underground.

The practical plan uses mass transit logic for its extension south. That means concentrating passengers at relatively few locations, instead of travelling great distances to pick them up.

The Armstrong Road park and ride would be easily accessible from the Riverside South subdivision and would meet all the city's projected needs for commuters from the south. It would give the south exactly the same kind of quick service to the electric train terminals the rest of the city would have. The practical plan reduces the service to a very acceptable 7.5-minute frequency, making most of the city's expensive double-track plan unnecessary. The city wants five-minute service
frequency, which would mean a lot of empty trains.

One of the things many people have forgotten is that the electric rail plan throws away all the money the city has spent putting the diesel O-Train in place.

We paid $17 million for the trains themselves, but hope to get only $7 million back when we dispose of them.

The trains have 25 years of useful life remaining. The eight kilometres of track will be torn up and replaced with track for the electric trains. The practical plan builds
on what we have already spent, and can be built almost immediately, with no service disruption.

This proposal solves two of the city's two key problems --transit congestion in the core and lack of a good transit connection from the south. It also creates a new system that can be built on incrementally as money becomes available, improving service east-west.

That makes infinitely more sense than spending every dime we have on an overbuilt north-south line that would only add to congestion in the core, all with no overall plan in hand and no money to improve east-west service.

The Friends of the O-Train is a group of about 24 citizens, made up of people who have been advising the city on light-rail and watching this project carefully for years. Their plan offers the much-needed moment of clarity on an issue that has become lost in a fog of confusion.

The practical plan ought to appeal to councillors worried about lawsuits because it reduces what Siemens will be asked to do, in the short term, but doesn't scrap it. As
such, it's perhaps the best way to work around the contract commitment.

The main issue, though, isn't what the outcome of a lawsuit might be, or precisely what's in the secret contract with the rail consortium. The goal is to improve our transit system in a way that will increase its capacity and make sense to riders and potential riders. We're not planning to send an astronaut to Mars. We're only trying to get people downtown by transit. How difficult can it be?

Contact Randall Denley at 613-596-3756 or by e-mail,
rdenley (at)

- For more election coverage, visit the Citizen's
Municipal Elections 2006 website at: tml

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006

"Friends" on the Right Track
Tue, October 31, 2006 - original article

Confused about all the different schemes purporting to be the road
ahead for light rail?

Small wonder.

Of the three main mayoral candidates, each purports to have the best plan.

Larry O'Brien wants to kill the light-rail project, at least until he has time to figure it all out.

Alex Munter wants to fix it. (Actually, he says don't nix it, just fix it. And that's getting tiresome if you attend as many debates and news conferences as the City Hall press corps!)

Bob Chiarelli wants to keep it the way it is.

And yesterday, Friends of the O-Train, a volunteer group of transportation gurus, came up with their own plan they say council should use as a starting point when the newly elected group takes power in December.

It's a lot to absorb, isn't it?

Especially when the price tag bandied about for Chiarelli's plan is $1 billion (at least by his opponents), and other plans promise to save hundreds of millions.

If you're having trouble figuring it all out, you're not alone.

Most of us just don't want to sit in rush-hour traffic on our way to work.

If our elected leaders don't want us to idle our cars, they had better work fast!

Here's the uncensored, apolitical truth about light rail.

The average Ottawan really has no way of knowing which plan is best. We can't hope to figure out which is the most cost-effective, the one that offers the best value for your hard-earned dollar.

The Friends of the O-Train have a plan, which, on paper, appears quite simple.

While Munter talks about doing away with light rail in the downtown core, having transit users getting off at Lebreton Flats, this new plan essentially does the opposite.

The plan sees electric light rail service provided over a 6-km route in the downtown core, from Bayview to Hurdman, and takes the buses off Albert and Slater streets to ease traffic woes.

Those buses would be sent back to the 'burbs to improve service there, spokesman David Jeanes explains.

The plan also keeps the current O-Train pilot project, extending it to a Park-and-Ride at Armstrong Rd. and doubling the service to every 71/2 minutes between Bayview and South Keys.

The overall cost savings would be more than $330 million, the group says, with a capital budget of $438 million.

There's a lot of history between the existing light-rail plan passed by council in July and the Friends of the O-Train.

And much of it isn't good.

With Jeanes as its spokesman, the group has butted heads over the present plan and harsh words have been exchanged with city staff.

The fight went public more than once, with harsh and angry words being exchanged at city committee meetings.

Nice guy Ned Lathrop, then-deputy city manager, nearly blew a gasket when the group and staff clashed.


The Friends say the city didn't do enough public consultation on light rail.

In fact, if you were one of the handful of the "general public" which attended one of the many public consultations, you'll know these meetings weren't very well attended.

Did the city do enough to encourage the public?

According to the group, citizens weren't welcomed and neither were their ideas.

Jeanes admitted yesterday many of their ideas were considered and adopted.

Clearly that was never good enough for Friends of the O-Train.

Let there be no mistake.

Whatever their issues, the people who make up Friends of the O-Train are a dedicated lot who've spent countless volunteer hours trying to push their ideas ahead. And for that, they should be commended.

But time is running out.

With just two weeks for a group of new councillors going to the table in December, the clock is ticking.

Fast and loud.

Une nouvelle proposition pour le train léger

Le Droit - original article

Avec les Amis du O-Train, un lien de train léger de six kilomètres serait construit entre les stations Bayview et Hurdman et il traverserait le centre-ville par les rues Slater et Albert.

Le plan adopté cet été par le conseil prévoit aussi que l'infrastructure sera installée sur Albert et Slater, mais le train partagerait une voie avec les autobus.

Les Amis du O-Train proposent à la place que ces voies soient utilisées uniquement par le train léger.

«Les express provenant de l'est et de l'ouest arrêteraient leur course aux stations Hurdman et Bayview, où ils laisseraient leurs usagers, explique Tim Lane, un membre des Amis du O-Train.

Plus de détails dans notre édition du 31 octobre 2006.

Group's O-Train plan to be cheaper, reduce downtown traffic

Group's O-Train plan to be cheaper, reduce downtown traffic
By Ottawa Business Journal Staff - original article
Tue, Oct 31, 2006 9:00 AM EST

Public transit advocacy group Friends of the O-Train has released an alternative plan to the hotly contested light-rail project, one which promises to be cheaper as well as move traffic out of the downtown core.

The volunteer group has suggested extending the O-Train line south to a park-and-ride at Armstrong Road, and run a six-kilometre loop between Bayview in the west and Hurdman in the east.

The group's plan is estimated to cost a total of $446 million, about half the amount of the cost of Mayor Bob Chiarelli's $880 million north-south only plan.

The plan also proposes increasing the frequency of trains, from every 15 minutes to 7.5 minutes to get from Bayview station to Greenboro station. As well, it recommends providing service every three minutes at stops on the east-west route going through downtown from Bayview to Hurdman.

Friends of the O-Train spokesperson David Jeanes says using three-car LRT systems, which can hold up to 600 passengers, would provide greater frequency of transit service to the suburbs at no extra cost, since the trains carry more people than buses with only one operator.

Mayor Chiarelli's LRT plan proposes a 30-kilometre electric rail system that would run from the University of Ottawa in the southwest to the Barrhaven town centre.

Update: Group proposes cheaper, more expandable O-Train plan

By Krystle Chow, Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Tue, Oct 31, 2006 2:00 PM EST - original
Public transit advocacy group Friends of the O-Train is proposing what its members say is a cheaper, more expandable and environmentally friendly alternative to the city's $880-million light-rail project.

The volunteer group has suggested extending the O-Train line south to a park-and-ride at Armstrong Road, as well as run a street-level, six-kilometre loop between Bayview in the west and Hurdman in the east with new electrified trains, instead of ripping up the existing diesel train infrastructure to build a whole new double-track electric system.

"There's no indication (from ridership surveys) that there's a need to replace the (existing) diesel trains," says David Jeanes, the group's spokesperson.

He adds that the city just needs to increase the frequency of the trains, from every 15 minutes to 7.5 minutes to get from Bayview station to Greenboro station, and add the "missing piece" from Waller Street down the Transitway to Hurdman.

"(The section from Waller Street to Hurdman) was always supposed to be converted to light rail anyway," he says. "Now's the time, when we're rebuilding Albert and Slater, to rebuild it for the LRT."

Mr. Jeanes says there will be no need for a downtown tunnel for the trains if the city replaces most of the downtown buses with a dedicated LRT track using electrified three-car trains, which will be able to transport 600 passengers at a time. The trains will be more cost-effective as well, he says, since they will carry more people than the buses will with only one operator.

The group's plan recommends providing service every three minutes at stops on the east-west route going through downtown from Bayview to Hurdman.

This plan, Mr. Jeanes says, will be easier to expand than Mayor Bob Chiarelli's proposed system, since the Bayview and Hurdman stations are only a few kilometres away from other major stops such as Tunney's Pasture and Ottawa's hospitals.

"We'll be able to have a future expansion plan that isn't a $2 billion mega-project," he continues.

As well, the increased frequency of train service and reduction of downtown congestion will give commuters cleaner air and more efficient bus service east of Hurdman and west of Bayview, he adds.

The group's plan is estimated to cost a total of $446 million, about half the amount of the cost of Mayor Bob Chiarelli's $880 million north-south only plan.

With Friends of the O-Train's proposal, the city would purchase 10 or 11 three-car electric trains and get about 130 buses out of the downtown core.

Mayor Chiarelli's LRT plan would involve purchasing 20-some electric trains to completely replace the existing service with a 30-kilometre electric rail system that would run from the University of Ottawa in the southwest to the Barrhaven town centre.

Mr. Jeanes says it isn't necessary to expand directly into Barrhaven, which has had a huge investment in its transit system, and as such has buses get downtown 12 minutes faster than the proposed LRT.

"We won't have trains running on empty out to Leitrim (with our plan)," says Mr. Jeanes. "(The LRT project) got out of control and it's not what the city needs...Right now, it will cause a disruption and will have no growth potential."

Give this new rail plan some thought
The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Re: O-Train advocates engineer better way, Oct. 31.

The "new" light-rail transit plan from Friends of the O-Train looks much more sensible, practical, forward-looking and would be very much less expensive than the current plan.

Many of this plan's proponents have been members of the city's transportation advisory committee and have had to produce this alternative plan because of the inability or the refusal of the city to listen to their input. One wonders why the city would have an advisory committee with some experienced and committed members, then ignore their proposals.

An additional advantage of this plan by concentrating a major bus/rail transfer at Hurdman Station is that there is an existing rail corridor leading to Kanata that is adjacent to Hurdman, and which could provide the basis of a fast and economical rail service route to western suburbs and Scotiabank Place.

Trevor Davies,


Friends of the O-Train spike Chiarelli's hopes
Mark Sutcliffe tracks the top candidates' momentum

Mark Sutcliffe
The Ottawa Citizen

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Friends of the O-Train, it turns out, are not the friends of Bob
Chiarelli. How ironic that a group of public-transit advocates may
have killed any remaining chance of the mayor being re-elected.

A group called the Friends of the O-Train, after all, should be
natural allies for a mayor who has championed light rail for nine
years and has made it the centrepiece of his latest term and current
campaign. But if Chiarelli can't find support from the guys with the
model train sets in their basements, then who else is left?

The mayor looks increasingly like he's lined up on the wrong side of
an issue that he counted on as being the strongest plank in his

Chiarelli appears to have prepared for a re-election campaign that
would be a referendum on the general merits of light rail against an
opponent like Terry Kilrea, who is against costly mega-projects. But
instead of being able to run as a light-rail champion, Chiarelli has
been forced to argue the logic of his specific plan against two strong
opponents: an informed debater and light-rail supporter in Alex Munter
and a credible and experienced business person in Larry O'Brien.

The scrutiny of his plan has put the mayor on the defensive from the
opening weeks of the campaign. When Treasury Board President John
Baird delayed federal funding until after the election, Chiarelli
tried to shift tactics and make the campaign a referendum on federal
interference. But the public seems to have welcomed the delay as an
opportunity to hear good debate about an important issue.

Trailing in the polls, Chiarelli's only hope then became convincing
voters that his plan was the best and that the front-runner Munter
would only cause costly delays and lawsuits by revising the strategy.
Chiarelli's radio commercials attacked Munter's light-rail plan as a
"light-rail sham."

It's one thing for the mayor to attack the motives of people who are
trying to steal his job, quite another to be positioned against a
group of volunteers with an alternative plan that, on the surface,
seems more effective and less expensive than the mayor's.

Without an urban planning degree or a week to do research, it's hard
for any voter to know for certain the best plan for light rail.
Instead, residents will have to judge whose strategy sounds most
credible. And it's becoming almost impossible for the mayor to defend
his plan as the most solid when no one else has lined up with him.

The presentation this week from the Friends of the O-Train speaks to a
growing public fear that the city was about to pay too much for a plan
that would not solve our transit problems.

The Friends propose, among other things, taking buses out of the
downtown core and running trains every three minutes from Bayview to
Hurdman. That sounds like a much more effective way of addressing
gridlock than simply adding trains to streets that are already crowded
with buses. As if that wasn't compelling enough, the plan costs about
half as much as the city's strategy.

Chiarelli's response to any alternative plan for light rail has been
consistent throughout the campaign: it's too late and too expensive.
He also points out that the Friends' plan will require people to
transfer to the downtown service from other trains and buses, which
the city views as unappealing to riders.

But if Chiarelli has become stranded on the issue he defined as the
most important, it will be exceedingly hard for him to convince voters
to change their minds in the final week of the campaign. It's hard to
count out an incumbent with a track record like Chiarelli's, but it
will take a tectonic shift for him to come from behind in this

As for the other two candidates, Munter can only benefit from the
intervention by the Friends of the O-Train. Their plan is not an exact
match to his, but it's a closer fit than with anyone else's.

For O'Brien, it creates more pressure for him to come up with a more
specific solution than his current position of delaying light rail for
six months. O'Brien may want to consider studying the Friends' plan
carefully and deciding if he'd like to adopt it as his own.

The real test of leadership, after all, is not coming up with the best
plan, it's choosing the best one, even if it's someone else's. The
perception that not even light-rail supporters think Chiarelli has the
best plan may cost him any chance of a comeback in this campaign.


HOT: Needing help wherever he can get it, Chiarelli probably boosted
his fortunes among seniors by offering reduced prices for bus passes
and better service from transit drivers. He's also the only candidate
willing to send the O-Train to Barrhaven, which should help him do
well in at least that ward.

NOT: The Friends of the O-Train may have extinguished any remaining
fire in Chiarelli's camp. If the guys with the model train sets in
their basements aren't supporting Chiarelli's plan for light rail,
who's left?

Next: It's time for a Hail Mary pass. Chiarelli needs a dramatic shift
in the final week or he'll be out of a job.


HOT: The announcement by the Friends of the O-Train helps Munter more
than any other candidate. It casts more doubt on Chiarelli's plan and
lines up well with his own transit proposal.

NOT: Munter attacked the mayor's plan to reduce the cost of bus passes
for seniors as a cynical attempt to "buy their votes with their
money." The same criticism about vote-buying could be made about any
promise to reduce costs or taxes, including Munter's.

Next: As the front-runner with one week remaining in the campaign,
it's time to focus on the ground game: how to get the most supporters
to the polls on election day.


HOT: O'Brien has cleverly begun positioning the campaign as a
two-horse race between him and Munter. His only hope at a win is a
complete implosion by Chiarelli's campaign. The endorsement of former
mayor Jackie Holzman also helps.

NOT: As the last entrant in the race and the candidate with the least
political experience, O'Brien has the least sophisticated campaign.
His news releases are often poorly worded and contain spelling
mistakes (including, once, O'Brien's own name) and his team will face
a tough challenge to get the most supporters to the polls on election

Next: O'Brien should consider endorsing the light-rail plan of the
Friends of the O-Train, since he still doesn't have a specific transit
plan of his own.
(c) The Ottawa Citizen 2006


It's never too late to fix a mistake
By Leo Valiquette, Ottawa Business Journal Staff
Mon, Nov 6, 2006 12:00 AM EST original

Last week's alternative proposal for light rail from a local lobby group demonstrates there is more than one way to build a railroad provided we are willing to accept the consequences of derailing the existing contract.

Volunteer group Friends of the O-Train has proposed a plan that would establish the base for both east-west and north-south light rail without ripping up the existing O-Train system, tunnelling under downtown at great cost, or taking a scenic tour of the countryside on the way down to Barrhaven.

Instead, the group proposes keeping the existing diesel line and extending it down to Armstrong Road where there is already a park and ride. The east-west link would consist of electric trains running on separate track on a six-kilometre run between Bayview (the station just before downtown where the current O-Train begins) and Hurdman, the key transit nexus on the east side of downtown. In this way, the group contends, downtown bus routes can be eliminated and, with that rubber tire congestion off of the streets, it isn't necessary to take the downtown train line underground. Morning express buses will now be free to make more frequent runs to the 'burbs since their routes will be shorter and they won't have to make their way through the core. This could mean fewer buses would be needed and OCTranspo could retire its more geriatric vehicles sooner rather than later. The system could then be expanded further east and west at a later date.

The price tag for all this? Only about 60 per cent of the current plan, the proponents claim.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Media big and small were quick to jump on the proposal. More than one editorial comment was written about how it makes so much more sense than anything else from city hall thus far.

However, there is still the little matter of the contract that has already been signed by the city with the Siemens consortium to build the north-south light rail line. This line, to recap, would run from U of O, through downtown to Bayview ,then south in a nice graceful curve to the Barrhaven town centre. This plan has already been the subject of great criticism and consternation due to the veil of secrecy that surrounded the tendering process and the route itself.

Nonetheless, this plan was approved by city council in the summer and signed by the Siemens group. For any other plan to be entertained at this point, the city must renege on that contract or attempt to renegotiate it after the fact. As Mayor Bob Chiarelli has repeatedly warned, this would likely result in multimillion-dollar penalties, years of delay and inflated construction costs. Mayoral challenger Larry O'Brien is willing to bite those bullets on the grounds that to address the shortcomings of the existing plan, it must be scrapped entirely in favour of a new one. Alex Munter, meanwhile, insists he can fix the current plan within a timeframe that will keep things on schedule with Siemens. And of course, all three have their reasons why the other guy's idea is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Any of us who believe that the existing light rail plan has significant flaws that must be addressed (which I believe it does), must be willing to accept the consequences of trying to turn back to clock at this 11th hour. It all comes down to a basic risk-reward scenario. Is the risk of millions wasted on penalties and inflationary construction costs worth the reward of a transit plan that better serves the interests of the community as a whole?

My vote is still out on last week's proposal from Friends of the O-Train. The first thought that comes to mind is the huge transfer station that will have to built at Bayview for it to serve as the nexus for all those west side buses, the southern diesel O-Train and the downtown electric light rail route. The volume of people making transfers and milling about on those station platforms would dwarf anything seen on the city's transit system at present.

Nonetheless, it does demonstrate that it is possible to come up with different ideas that have the potential to serve a greater number of commuters from all points of the compass with cost savings that would more than compensate for any financial penalties. It boils down to how willing we are as a community to ignore fear-mongering and accept the short-term pain for the long-term benefit of a more efficient and effective integrated transit system.


Alistair Steele, CBC Radio, Oct 31, 2006 original

Finally, someone has come up with a detailed, workable solution to Ottawa’s light rail transit mess …and it’s not a candidate for mayor or council.

Friends of the O-Train is a group of public transit advocates, including members of Transport 2000 and other groups that are passionate about public transportation. David Jeanes is the group’s spokesperson. He’s one of this city’s most knowledgeable transit experts and he’s volunteered hundreds, even thousands, of hours of his time helping the city get light rail right.

Unfortunately, his advice was ignored at every step of the way. Relations between Jeanes and senior city staff grew so tense that Jeanes eventually withdrew from the process altogether, watching from the sidelines as city council passed a plan few people believed would actually work.

Now John Baird’s intervention has given Friends of the O-Train new hope. A new city council – and possibly a new mayor – will make the decision on the current light rail plan on Dec. 15.

Alex Munter has been preaching “fix it, don’t nix it,” but his plan has lacked detail. (To be fair, Munter is playing a bit of blind man’s bluff, because like the rest of us, he hasn’t seen the contract with Siemens). His own panel of experts will report back in July with ideas about what to remove from the north-south plan, but concepts for an east-west line won’t come for a while. Larry O’Brien wants to “press the reset button,” but hasn’t offered any clear alternatives. The Friends’ proposal fills in all the blanks, and it makes near-perfect sense.

First of all – and no surprise, considering the group’s name – they want to save the diesel O-Train that’s been chugging from Bayview to South Keys via Carleton University for a couple of years now. Not only that, they want to extend it to a Park and Ride at Armstrong Road in Riverside South, near what was to have been the eastern end of the Strandherd Bridge. The link across the Rideau River into Barrhaven will have to wait, at least for now.

More important, say the Friends, is to take care of downtown congestion now. To do that, they’re proposing an electric light rail line from Bayview to Hurdman to serve the downtown. There’d be a train every three minutes to ferry passengers in from the transfer stations. That frequency would eliminate the need for buses on the busy Albert-Slater corridor and allow OC Transpo to improve service elsewhere. It would also eliminate one of the most common criticisms of the current plan: That by forcing three modes of transportation (not counting pedestrians) to compete for space, it actually intensifies the problem of downtown congestion. And all for $446 million – $330 million less than the cost of the current plan, say the Friends.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised this afternoon to hear Bob Chiarelli dismiss the Friends’ proposal. We’ve heard it all before, he says. Chiarelli says city staff did take the experts’ ideas into consideration when it formulated the current plan. Which is strange, because the Friends’ plan doesn’t look anything like the one council will look at in December. City staff had – and presumably still has – serious concerns about combining diesel and light rail systems and turning Bayview into a giant transfer station.

And to be fair, many of these proposals have come up in one form or another and were rejected by council. But this plan bears such close resemblance to what Alex Munter is proposing (or at least, what he appears to be proposing) that politically, Bob Chiarelli can’t support it, no matter how much sense it makes.

So he’s threatening the same thing he’s threatened will happen if the current contract with Siemens is broken – that it will cost untold millions and delay any form of light rail in Ottawa for four or five years. The message: It’s better to go with a plan that’s shrouded in doubt and secrecy because it will be easier to get started on than a plan that looks better, faster and cheaper.

O-Train plan finds more friends in downtown core
Patrick Dare, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 original
Business coalition leader considers alternative rail proposal 'sensible'
Photograph by : Robert Cross, The Ottawa CitizenHume Rogers never thought the city's commuter rail plan made any sense. But he says the alternative plan being proposed by a community transit group might be just the ticket the city needs to ease horrendous downtown congestion.

Mr. Rogers, of the Albert-Slater coalition of downtown businesses, yesterday said the Friends of the O-Train proposal presented during the municipal election could be "a very sensible solution" that downtown businesses would not fight.

Mr. Rogers said the community group's proposal needs professional study and financial details fleshed out. But he said it's a remarkable piece of work from a volunteer group.

"The basic concept of the plan is excellent," said Mr. Rogers, who is general manager of the Capital Hill Hotel and Suites.

Downtown business property owners have vociferously opposed the $880-million light-rail plan favoured by outgoing Mayor Bob Chiarelli, a plan that would add trains to an already seriously clogged Albert and Slater streets.

The downtown property owners are fed up with the hundreds of buses that crowd into downtown during rush hours, mixing with cars and trucks and creating chaos for commuters, who have trouble catching the right buses.

The city's proposed Siemens electric commuter train -- to run 30 kilometres from Barrhaven to the University of Ottawa -- could make things even worse, the business group fears, with trains crawling along Albert and Slater like streetcars.

Their opposition to the plan, coupled with the intervention of Treasury Board President John Baird -- who decided not to sign off on the federal government's $200-million contribution to the project until the new council votes on it -- helped make the rail project an election issue.

Opposition to the north-south rail plan played a role in the defeat last week of Mr. Chiarelli, the biggest booster of commuter rail. Now the fate of the plan is in doubt.

During the election, the Friends of the O-Train proposed a much cheaper alternative.

Their plan calls for keeping the existing, popular diesel north-south O-Train and running it farther south to Armstrong Road, as well as increasing the frequency of service.

That train and city buses would bring commuters from the suburbs to a transfer station at Bayview, west of downtown, or by bus to Hurdman station east of downtown.

There, commuters would transfer to an electric train that would offer service every three minutes through downtown. Buses would be kept out of downtown. The trains would have three cars and carry up to 600 passengers.

Larry O'Brien, who promised during the election a six-month return to the drawing board on commuter rail, defeated Mr. Chiarelli and has been pondering what can be done.

The city's top public servants have argued that the current, council-approved rail plan, with a building consortium led by Siemens, is the best option.

The new members of Ottawa council were handed three binders packed with information about the deal in the last few days. They will vote in December on whether to go ahead with the Siemens-led plan.

But councillors are also getting briefings from the Friends of the O-Train about the alternative. David Jeanes of the Friends said yesterday that Mr. O'Brien had two sessions with the transit group before the election. Other councillors are also being briefed.

Mr. Jeanes said council needs the six-month breather that the new mayor has spoken about.

Mr. Jeanes said the Friends' proposal, which "resonated very well with the public," will be attractive to councillors in the east and west, as well as the south.

He said that with this plan, "you are building for both directions," while taking polluting buses out of downtown.

Mr. Rogers said business owners would like to see the city do a serious study on the option of building a downtown tunnel. However, he said the Friends' plan is pretty impressive.

It would solve the problem of hundreds of big, noisy, polluting buses flooding the core. It would solve the two-kilometre-long bottleneck in the transit system downtown. And it would be a system that the city could expand, when the ridership warrants.

"Can we live with the the Friends of the O-Train plan? Absolutely," said Mr. Rogers.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2006
Photograph by : Robert Cross, The Ottawa Citizen


Democracy has spoken on light rail, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Sunday, December 03, 2006 original

Re: Self-aggrandizing posse, Nov. 26.

Letter-writer John Unrau describes the Friends of the O-Train as a "self-aggrandizing posse" with "no democratic legitimacy." It is not clear what form of democracy he has in mind.

Voters in Gloucester South-Nepean (Ward 22), which comprises the entire Riverside South and south Barrhaven service areas for the city's proposed light-rail project, voted 72 per cent in favour of mayoral candidates who were against the city's proposed project. Across Ottawa, 85 per cent of voters supported candidates who were against the plan.

Democracy seems to have spoken loud and clear.

The group believes it is the significant functional and financial advantages of our practical light-rail alternative plan that has captured the attention of citizens.

For example, the city's proposed billion-dollar light-rail system would have enticed only an extra 1,050 people to take transit in the morning rush hour.

This is about one half of one per cent of Ottawa commuters in 2021. We stepped forward and spoke out, but credit for change is due entirely to voters, candidates, and a great example of democracy in action.

The Friends fully support Mr. Unrau's suggestion that a thorough and impartial conflict-of-interest investigation into all aspects of the city's light-rail project would be prudent. No one involved with the development of the practical light-rail alternative plan stands to gain personally from its acceptance any more than any other typical citizen, taxpayer or transit user.

The Earl Armstrong Road location for the southernmost end of the diesel light-rail service was chosen because it is on the existing rail corridor, a major vehicle corridor, and it is closer to Riverside South than the Leitrim site. It can easily service feeder buses from Riverside South as well as Park-and-Ride commuters from communities beyond.

While it is true that the Friends of the O-Train are a self-organized group of volunteers, the city and former regional council have appointed many of us to a wide range of public consultation bodies.

Perhaps then Mr. Unrau's use of the term "posse" was fair. It denotes citizen volunteers recruited by the duly appointed or elected authority to perform an unpaid civic duty like volunteer firefighters, for example. The Friends sincerely hope that with the council vote on Dec. 15 this particular fire is truly stamped out.

Stephen Fanjoy, Ottawa
Friends of the O-Train


City would run better if it listened to knowledgable volunteers
The Ottawa Citizen - January 07, 2007 original article

Re: O'Brien wants managers to go by the book, Jan. 3.

I enjoyed reading that Mayor Larry O'Brien wants to run the city more like a business. I agree that sluggish, centralized bureaucracies with rules and regulations and hierarchical chains of organization no longer work very well.

As the article suggests, allowing individuals and non-profit organizations to participate in planning will deliver better and more innovative services.

One only needs to look at the current O-Train service to see an example of a concept developed, at least in part, by a number of community volunteers. This project was championed by several councillors, was carried through to a successful pilot and was extended indefinitely by council on Dec. 18, 2002. In 2003 it won the Federation of Canadian Municipalities' award of excellence and the American Public Works Association's project of the year. Today there is a valid environmental assessment that would allow service to be extended to South Keys station, and next could be an extension to the new Leitrim park-and ride-facility, both at minimal cost.

Contrast this to the recently rejected light-rail proposals that relied on expensive outside contractors and repeatedly disregarded the suggestions of volunteers and community experts. Through too many rules, an overly complex environmental assessment and a horrendously long, complex, secretive tendering process, there resulted a solution that cost more than 20 times the cost of the pilot project even though it was only two to three times longer. The solution even required shutting down the O-Train system for three years and building a new maintenance facility by the Greenbelt, while the existing facilities could be easily expanded at underused, brownfield Walkley yard.

Had city managers and OC Transpo been able to innovate and build incrementally, we could have had fast north-south rail service to Leitrim three years ago, and to Riverside South by now. We could have made much better use of the federal and provincial funds to sustainably extend the current line east-west using the existing rail line paralleling Baseline/Walkley, over to Hull and Gatineau, and we could gradually convert the bus Transitway to rail, as it was designed to be.

Let's build our new transit systems in an innovative and sustainable fashion, allowing volunteers and community experts to contribute fully.

Bernie Geiger, Ottawa


City hid true cost of light rail, documents show

Mohammed Adam, The Ottawa Citizen Published: Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The City of Ottawa didn't publicly disclose the full terms under which the consortium picked to build the north-south commuter rail line, freedom-of-information documents obtained by the Citizen show.

"It was an accounting shell game," said Councillor Alex Cullen, a light-rail supporter who turned against the project when costs began to soar.

"They wanted to avoid the $1-billion threshold, but the manipulation of the figures helped undermine public confidence and the credibility of the project. Light rail suffered death by a thousand cuts -- and this was one of the big ones."

Talk that the cost wasn't fully disclosed dogged then-mayor Bob Chiarelli through last fall's municipal election campaign, and contributed to the death of the multimillion-dollar project.

At the height of the light-rail debate last summer, the cost of the project fluctuated wildly between $654 million, which the city said was the right figure, and $1 billion, which critics maintained was closer to the truth. The Citizen documents show the top three bids ranged from $953 million to $1.4 billion.

But city bureaucrats strongly disagree, saying no one hid anything or tried to mislead area residents. Rejean Chartrand, the senior manager who oversaw the project, said councillors approved the bidding process and were fully aware of what was going on. He pointed out that in reports sent to councillors in June and July, before they voted 14-7 to approve the project, everything was spelled out to the last cent.

"We told council every step of the way how we were going to do this," he said. "There are reports that track everything we did. The figures were always there."

The Citizen requested the light-rail documents in August under the municipal freedom of information laws, but the city delayed their release before the election, and then, following "third-party" objections, withheld turning them over until now. Still, some important information is still missing. An appeal before the Ontario information and privacy commissioner is pending.

The contract between Siemens and the city has also not been made public, even though Mayor Larry O'Brien, during the election campaign, called for its release.

According to the Citizen's documents, the three bidders were told by the city that the winner would be the one with the lowest price for a project that contained three elements: construction of rail line, the new maintenance yard and maintenance costs over 15 years. After an evaluation by a city panel last April, Siemens won the bid with a total price of $953.1 million. The group led by Bombardier followed with $977.9 million and the third bid, led Japanese giant Kinkisharyo, came in at $1.4 billion. All the figures include GST, which cities don't pay.

But for weeks after Siemens won, city politicians and bureaucrats spoke publicly only of the cost of the rail line, without any reference to the cost of the entire package. The documents show that Siemens bid $736.7 million for the basic light-rail portion, with Bombardier at $728.7 million and Kinkisharyo at $964.6 million, including GST.

Even though Bombardier had the lowest price for designing and building the rail line, Siemens won because it had a cheaper overall package. At the onset, the city asked the three companies to include the cost of the Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge as part of the project because without the link, the trains wouldn't be able to cross the Rideau River into Barrhaven. Siemens' price for the new bridge was the cheapest, and when GST was subtracted from the prices, Siemens ended up with the lowest bid at $721 million. Bombardier was next with $725 million and Kinkisharyo came in a shade over $939 million.

Mr. Chartrand said after Siemens was chosen, the city worked with the group's engineers to find ways of saving more money and eventually beat down the price to $654 million.

Mr. Chartrand, who was also a member of the selection panel, said the Siemens bid was so superior there was little debate over the choice.

"There is a clear recommendation for the selection of Siemens-PCL/Dufferin as the Preferred Proponent," the panel said in its report.

"When compared to the next best Proposal, Siemens-PCL/Dufferin has the lowest design-build price, the lowest net present value for annual maintenance costs, which includes the cost of the Maintenance Centre."

Mr. Cullen, who was one of 13 councillors who voted last month to kill the project, said it was a classic example of how not to do things.

He said a project that was perhaps the best thing Mr. Chiarelli has ever done, failed because its chief proponents chose not to play straight with taxpayers. He said the companies bid on the project as a package that included three or four key elements and the city should not have tried to mislead people by selling only one part of it.

"The companies bid on the whole thing and when you add it up, it comes to $1 billion. The project suffered from public distrust over the numbers. It is a case study of how this kind of manipulation defeats itself," Mr. Cullen said.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007 - original article


Transit needs to get on a roll

The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The new council's decision to scrap the light-rail project doesn't relieve it of the duty to improve Ottawa's transit. It only makes the job more difficult and urgent.

Bus riders won't wait for this council to come up with the perfect grand plan, one to which all councillors will agree, that future councils will endorse and for which other levels of government will be happy to pay. Ottawa needs better bus service now, and it needs more and better rail service.

Even if the city stopped growing (unlikely), Ottawa would have to provide more buses and better routes. The time for empty talk about the environment is past. One way to fight smog and climate change is to get people out of their cars. Ottawa's goal of getting 30 per cent of commuters on buses is achievable. The current system, though, is inadequate to the task.

The fact that public transit was one of the biggest issues in the municipal election should be a clue for those councillors still stuck in the Dark Ages. People in all neighbourhoods, of all levels of income and all lifestyles, want better transportation options.

People in Barrhaven want to be able to ride quickly to destinations in Kanata. For that matter, people in Kanata want to be able to ride quickly to destinations in Kanata.

The Transitway and the O-Train serve students and commuters to downtown very well, but that's no longer good enough. The best way to mitigate the effects of sprawl is to encourage people to commute and shop within their neighbourhoods. That means better bus service in the bedroom communities. It also means ridding ourselves of the attitude that the suburbs are bedroom communities.

The Transitway works so well that many buses are clogged in rush hour, making the commute fast and onvenient but unpleasant. Other routes are less crowded, but they require a willingness to stand and wait, often in the cold.

The city must keep expanding the Transitway, build more park-and-rides and ensure that buses go to the farthest stations often enough to make those stations worthwhile. If the city moves away from inefficient express routes, it must replace them with a hub-and-spoke model that allows people to transfer quickly, easily and without braving the weather. It must create suburban feeder routes that run frequently.

Even the rail boosters on council are dispirited after the last rail plan lurched to its death in December. Everyone is sick of talking about rail. Too bad. The O-Train pilot project has been a success; councillors would be foolish to ignore that information. Ottawa has shown itself ready for new forms of rapid transit.

Just when the city needs leadership and good sense, it seems unlikely to get it. Ottawa has a new mayor and a fractious council. OC Transpo still doesn't have a manager to replace Alain Carle, who left the job abruptly last year. It's time for someone on council to start the next big push for transit.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2007 original article


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